Ankara backs Iraq VP amid death sentence

Ankara backs Iraq VP amid death sentence

Ankara backs Iraq VP amid death sentence

Iraqi security personnel inspect the site of a car bomb attack outside a French consular building in Baghdad. Nearly 60 have been killed in attacks across the country. REUTERS photo

The fugitive Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, who fled the country five months ago and is now residing in Turkey, was yesterday sentenced to death for running death squads against national security forces and Shiites. Ankara swiftly responded to the decision, with the Foreign Ministry saying the vice president could stay in Turkey for as long as he wants.

Al-Hashemi had earlier said that he was expecting a death sentence in an interview with the Hürriyet Daily News on Aug. 31. “I was expecting a death sentence against me, because I have lost faith in the judicial system in Iraq. The judicial system has lost impartiality and has become a tool of [Iraqi Prime Minister] Nouri al-Maliki, who targeted me from the beginning,” al-Hashemi said in that interview.

Political decision: Ankara
The vice president was still in a meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu yesterday afternoon at the ministry building in Ankara when the Daily News went to press.

“This is obviously a political decision. Sentencing the country’s vice president to death is an absurd situation,” a Turkish diplomatic source told the Daily News. Recalling that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said al-Hashemi could stay in Turkey for as long as he wants, the source said he was not anticipating a change in this position. The Turkish government had said it would not extradite al-Hashemi to Iraq, after Interpol issued a red bulletin against the fugitive Iraqi politician in May. Al-Hashemi was not in court to hear the verdict against him.The Baghdad courtroom was silent yesterday as the judge, who said his name could not be released for fear of violent reprisals, announced the verdict convicting al-Hashemi and his son-in-law of the killings of a lawyer and a security official. The two were acquitted in a third case for a lack of evidence, the judge said, according to The Associated Press.

The trial, which opened this spring, held a total of 10 hearings and featured testimony from the vice president’s former bodyguards, who said they were ordered, and then paid, to launch the attacks. Government forces who found weapons when they raided al-Hashemi’s house and that of his son-in-law also testified in the case, as did relatives of the victims. Iraq’s Shiite-led government has accused al-Hashemi of playing a role in 150 bombings, assassinations and other attacks from 2005 to 2011, most of which were allegedly carried out by his bodyguards and other employees.

Deadly weekend
In a previous interview with the Daily News, al-Hashemi had said Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki had deprived him of his right to defend himself in court, and to transfer the trial from Baghdad to Arbil or Kirkuk. “I am entirely innocent, and my guards who are being tortured and put in prison by the al-Maliki government are also innocent. I need more support from the Turkish government and the Turkish people, also for my guards, who are in a very difficult situation,” he had said. Across Iraq, a series of more than 20 attacks killed at least 58 people and wounded over 250 over the weekend, with targets including security forces and markets. The most serious of the bombings, blasts and shootings happened yesterday near the city of Amara, 300 kilometers south of Baghdad, when two car bombs exploded outside a Shiite shrine and a market place, killing at least 16 people, officials said, according to Reuters.

Overnight in Dujail, 50 kilometers north of Baghdad, gunmen and a suicide bomber driving a car attacked a military base, killing 11 soldiers and injuring seven, police said. A car bomb killed eight people queuing for jobs as police guards for the Iraqi North Oil Company in the flashpoint city of Kirkuk.

The city was hit by several other blasts. A car bomb and a bomb packed into a motorcycle detonated outside a crime investigation office, killing seven and wounding 40. More people were killed in several other blasts across the country, including in the towns of Baquba, Samarra, Basra and Tuz Khurmato.

İpek Yezdani contributed to this report from Istanbul.